Now it’s official: Microsoft has a pad. The ghost of Steve Jobs must be yelling: “finally”. After 30 years of back and forth, it seems (for now) that Jobs was right after all: software and hardware needs to be unified in order to deliver a coherent and enticing user experience.
What Jobs foresaw and have proven with the success of Apple is that the future is a clash of ecosystems instead of individual devices and products. Every single product has to do its part, of course, but the sum has to be greater than the part. The Iphone and The Ipad are both wonderful products, but they would not have become sensations if Apple didn’t integrate from top down and perfected every step along the way.
Nokia didn’t realize this, and its demise has been nothing short of stunning and swift. Nokia is not the only victim of The Apple Revolution, however. Lesser companies have also been affected, for example, the concept of “MP5”.
For foreigners, MP3 is widely associated with the movement that took down the music industry, but it’s hard to fathom what the difference in digit signifies. This is where knowledge of China would help. China is big on “conceptual marketing”, short on innovation. This is the country where companies want to “build clones of enticing products” rather than build something new, where a company that has innovation in its name has a founder whose name has been turned into “Start Copy” because it clones U.S. startups so often.
To put it in succinct terms, Chinese companies are not good at building something fresh, but they are good at copying others who do. MP5 is the epitome of this. It is basically a MP3 player and a video player rolled up in one. There is nothing new to either, so for the Chinese makers to sell the devices, they must invent sexy terms to put lipsticks on the pig. Along came MP4 player, which is widely acknowledged to be a synonym for video player.
Even though MP4 is nothing special, the device sold better with a new name, that’s why MP5 was invented, hoping lighting would strike twice. This time, most people saw through the trick, but that didn’t stop the Chinese makers from putting out MP6, essentially the same device.
While Chinese makers were busy making up new names, they missed The Apple Revolution entirely. Same thing has happened with Chinese e-book makers. Hanwang, an early pioneer in the business, Is losing its shirts. Hanwang’s loss symbolizes the entire Chinese e-book business. In America, the sales of ebooks finally eclipsed that of the hardcover. In China, treading the same path would be suicide. China lacks the infrastructure for a booming e-book market. Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Book are both backed by precious contents, some of them original.
This is because free riding on the backs of others, be it other innovators or content providers, is easy. Building something new, integrating everything from top to bottom, creating a viable ecosystem, these things are hard. But in the long run, you simple cannot sustain your system by building MP5s, MP6s, MP7s. In fact, even building a beautiful product like the Lumia is not enough. To win the long game, one has to make the hard choice, and take the path less travelled by.